Free school wins reinspection after Ofsted conflict of interest allegation

Doncaster's XP East complained about 'unprofessional conduct' of inspection team over 'requires improvement' rating

Doncaster's XP East complained about 'unprofessional conduct' of inspection team over 'requires improvement' rating

25 Feb 2022, 12:00

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A school previously embroiled in a conflict-of-interest row with Ofsted says it has secured an early reinspection, despite the watchdog refusing to uphold its complaint.

XP East in Doncaster was graded as ‘requires improvement’ in January, but raised complaints about the “unprofessional conduct” of the inspection team.

The inspection was led by an inspector employed by the nearby Delta Academies Trust, just one week after XP’s chief executive hit out at neighbouring schools for excluding pupils and “creating problems in our town”.

Ofsted rated XP East ‘good’ for both quality of education and behaviour, as well as an ‘outstanding’ grade for personal development.

However, the watchdog found leaders did “not have the required knowledge” of the off-site provision for sixth-form students.

Consequently, it was rated as ‘requires improvement’ in both the sixth-form provision and leadership and management categories – limiting the overall grade. 

In a letter sent to parents in January, headteacher Andrew Sprakes contested the ‘good’ grades for quality of education and behaviour, stating they were “world class”.

He added: “Unsurprisingly, Ofsted did not uphold our complaints regarding…the unprofessional conduct of the team and their conflicts of interest.”

The free school is part of the XP School Trust, famous for pioneering an alternative method of education focused on creativity as well as academic progress. Pupils are given increased freedoms, conduct their own research and do not need to wear uniforms.

Trust CEO had criticised neighbouring schools

One week before the inspection the trust was subject to a lengthy feature in The Times newspaper, in which chief executive Gwyn ap Harri took aim at other Doncaster schools.

He stated that the school had triple the number of permanently excluded pupils on roll and was “picking up the problems that other schools are creating in our town”.

Lead inspector during the visit was Barry Found, who, according to LinkedIn, serves as director of quality assurance for Delta Academies Trust, which operates 15 schools in the Doncaster area.

An Ofsted spokesperson said they “could not find evidence of any wrongdoing” after “investigating the complaint”.

Watchdog guidance states inspectors are expected to “declare all actual and perceived conflicts of interest and have no real or perceived connection with the provider”.

ap Harri told Schools Week that Ofsted has “agreed to reinspect XP East as soon as they are able, and we have both agreed any matters are now resolved”.

Ofsted said the school had requested an earlier inspection “which we have agreed to consider in line with our policy”, but it claimed this “has nothing to do with Ofsted’s conduct or the complaint received”. 

Schools rated as ‘requires improvement” will normally be inspected within 30 months of the report being published.

Schools can request graded Ofsted inspection

However, Ofsted guidance states schools can request an earlier graded inspection. The trust understands the next inspection will take place well before the usual 30-month threshold.

During the 2020-21 academic year, Ofsted “upheld or partially upheld” just a quarter of complaints lodged.

National Education Union general secretary Dr Mary Bousted warned that reinspecting the school “undermines” the complaints process.

Covid spending masks Ofsted
Dr Mary Bousted

“If they don’t uphold the complaint but redo an inspection, what Ofsted have accepted is that something is wrong with the original inspection.”

Angela Sandhal, a judicial review solicitor who specialises in Ofsted disputes, said the complaints process was “very narrow” and in her experience the watchdog “never upholds complaints in relation to the judgment outcome”.

A Delta spokesperson said that “experienced leaders from schools across the country form part of the inspection workforce” and during the inspection “the team was joined by a very senior HMI as part of Ofsted’s quality assurance process”.

The trust said a number of its staff served as Ofsted inspectors and it is “pleased to play our part in supporting the system”.

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